Stephen Curry's brilliant, record-setting 2012-13 season has already elevated his profile well above that of his first-round counterpart Ty Lawson, but the Golden State Warriors' sharpshooting leader has a chance to take his stardom to new heights by putting his stamp on what's sure to be a thrilling playoff series between his Dubs and the Denver Nuggets.
Lawson enters the opening-round tilt at less than 100 percent, having missed eight games in the season's final month because of a bad heel. He did average 16.3 points and 6.8 assists in his season-ending four-game cameo, which indicates that his health is improving.
But chasing the perpetually mobile Curry around for a full game is another story.
If Lawson is even slightly hobbled, he could be late in reaching Curry as the Warriors guard serpentines without the ball through a never-ending series of screens. Curry needs almost no room to get his shot off, so a split-second of tardiness by Lawson could lead to a devastating three-point assault by the league's single-season record holder for most made triples.
And if Golden State slams the door on Lawson with its patented "Elevator" play—one of the NBA's most delightfully sneaky sets—his lateness could leave him walled off entirely from his defensive assignment.
Plus, if Curry is the primary ball-handler, Lawson's bad wheel could lead to some embarrassing broken ankles.
Maybe he can ask Gary Neal how much fun he had trying to stay with Curry's vastly improved handle.
To be fair, one of Curry's biggest advantages over Lawson has to do with the former's good fortune on the injury front. After a couple of seasons marred by ankle troubles, Curry missed just four games in 2012-13. If Lawson were at full strength, Curry would have just as difficult a time chasing him around.
But because Lawson's health is a real concern, Denver might have to get creative in its defensive schemes.
The Nuggets' best move might be to avoid matching Lawson up on Curry altogether. Even if Denver's point guard manages to be at full strength when the series kicks off, Curry's quick release and height advantage could still make it easy for him to shoot over Lawson at will.
If George Karl opts to put the longer, more dangerous Andre Iguodala (or perhaps even Corey Brewer) on Curry, either of those two would make things much more difficult for Golden State's primary option. Of course, that decision could give Warriors another favorable option: The 5'11" Lawson would have to handle the 6'7" Klay Thompson in the post. Thompson's vastly improved mid- and low-post game would make things extremely rough for the much smaller Lawson.
But we're not here to talk about Thompson—even though he's got a shot to be the x-factor against Denver. This is about Curry and his journey toward stardom.
The fact is that the Warriors will go as far as their best player can take them. Sure, Andrew Bogut's presence in the middle will be key in slowing down Denver's NBA-best 58 points per game in the paint. And, yes, David Lee is going to have to at least pretend to compete with a gimpy Kenneth Faried on the glass.
But Curry is representative of the Dubs' overall style, and as such, he'll decide their fate. No team shot the ball better from long range than the Warriors (40 percent) did this year. And no player did more damage from distance than Curry did.
If he can exploit Lawson's injury by running him ragged and drilling threes from all over the floor, the Warriors truly can engineer an upset in the first round.
For Curry, the league's most notable All-Star snub, the act of leading his team to an unlikely postseason series win could be all it takes to lift him into the NBA's upper echelon of superstars.